Saturday, May 16, 2020

Good News for Maria Gaetana Agnesi's 302nd Birthday!

Let's year, I discovered that The Family Coppola has created a brandy called Agnesi 1799 in honor of Maria Gaetana Agnesi. The brandy is part of their line of "Great Women Spirits." I'm happy to report that the company updated their website information about Maria in response to my feedback regarding the inaccuracies there. The info isn't perfect, but it's much better!

So let's toast Maria on the anniversary of her birth as well as the Great Women Spirits marketing staff. Salute!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Let's Drink to Maria Gaetana Agnesi's 301st Birthday!

As I continue my research on the life of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, today I was surprised to discover that there is now an alcoholic drink named in her honor:

According to an article in Sonoma Magazine, The Family Coppola now has a line of "Great Women Spirits" named for several historic women. The spirits include a brandy that, according to the article, "commemorates Maria Gaetana Agnesi, the first woman to serve as a mathematics professor at a university." Called "Agnesi 1799," the bottle bears a portrait of Maria against the backdrop of the curve of The Witch of Agnesi. The number 1799 commemorates the year of her death.

Sadly, the article perpetuates one of the myths associated with Maria: that she was a mathematics professor. Pope Benedict XIV did indeed offer her a math professorship at the University of Bologna, but she turned it down and never served there. The Family Coppola website repeats this fallacy on the brandy's page. The brandy label itself, described on the bottom of the page, indicates that she was the "theorist of the Witch of Agnesi curve." However, as I discussed in my last post, this is a myth. I plan to contact the company about these errors. I'll let you know if they respond. 

Meanwhile, despite the inaccuracies, I'm pleased to see the company commemorate Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Perhaps I can locate a bottle of the brandy to drink a toast in honor of her birthday today!


Saturday, October 27, 2018

The "Witch of Agnesi"

Back in 2014, I shared a post about an animated Google Doodle in honor of Maria Gaetana Agnesi's birthday that year.The Doodle appears to represent a curve that bears the odd name "witch of Agnesi." Many books and websites say Maria "invented" the curve, but that's a myth. While Maria does discuss the curve in the mathematics textbook she wrote, the fact is that the curve had already been studied by other mathematicians before her. One of those mathematicians, Guido Grandi, had used the term versiera to describe it.

The name "Witch of Agnesi" was invented by Cambridge University mathematics professor John Colson when he translated Maria's math textbook from Italian into English. Colson gave the book it's English title: Analytical Institutions. Unfortunately, when Colson translated Maria's description of the curve, he apparently confused “la versiera” with “l’avversiera,” which means “wife of the devil.” Because of this mistake, Colson named the curve the “Witch of Agnesi” and that's how it's been known ever since. 

Maria, who was devoutly religious, would be horrified at the name!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Celebrating Maria Gaetana Agnesi's 300th Birthday!

May 16, 2018 is the 300th birthday of mathematician-turned-humanitarian Maria Gaetana Agnesi. But Milan, Italy, her birthplace, has special events planned in her honor all year long, including a  program sponsored by Poleticnico Milano on April 19. If you can read Italian, check out the impressive program here

Since my research into Maria Gaetana Agnesi's life led me to write the novel Playing by Heart, inspired by her and her younger sister, Maria Teresa Agnesi, I think it only appropriate to sponsor a giveaway of the novel to celebrate this momentous birthday. See my website for details.

I hope that by Maria Gaetana Agnesi's next birthday, I will have found a publisher for the biography I'm working on about her. Meanwhile, happy birthday, Maria!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day 2018

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day. 

I can't think of a better day to celebrate the two, relatively unknown,
18th-century sisters who inspired my historical novel Playing by Heart. The sisters are linguist, mathematician, and humanitarian Maria Gaetana Agnesi and musician and composer Maria Teresa Agnesi.

I started this website back in 2010 to debunk some of the myths surrounding the two sisters, especially those about Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Unfortunately, eight years later, there's still an amazing amount of misinformation about the family that continues to be disseminated both in print and online. One of the most annoying myths, in my opinion, is that the father of the Agnesi sisters was a mathematics professor. I discussed this myth back in June, 2010. I'd been pleased at that time to see that the error had been corrected in the Wikipedia entry about Maria Gaetana. Unfortunately, since then, someone has updated the Wikipedia entry so that it is now wrong again!

I still hope to eventually publish a nonfiction biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi for students ages 10 and up that will provide the true story of her life, as best we can put together. Meanwhile, I recommend these two references for the most accurate information we have regarding Maria Gaetana specifically and her family in general:
  • A Biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an Eighteenth-Century Woman Mathematician by Antonella Cupillari
  • The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God by Massimo Mazzotti (You can follow him on Twitter @maxmazzotti)

The best information I’ve found regarding Maria Teresa Agnesi and her music is in Volumes 3 and 4 of Women Composers: Music through the Ages, edited by Sylvia Glickman and Martha Furman Schleifer.

I include these references in the Author's Note of my novel Playing by Heart. As I shared here recently, I'm currently offering a special giveaway in honor of Women's History Month. You can read the giveaway details as well as download an excerpt from the novel on this page of my website.

Happy International Women's Day!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Women's History Month 2018

     Today kicks off Women's History Month. I learned a great deal about women's history while researching Playing by Heart. The novel was inspired by the two eldest Agnesi sisters: accomplished musician and composer Maria Teresa Agnesi and her older sister, linguist, mathematician, and humanitarian Maria Gaetana Agnesi. You can read more about Maria Teresa on her page of this site and about Maria Gaetana on her bio page.

     The six-month anniversary of the release of Playing by Heart also occurs later this month. It's hard to believe the book has already been out almost six months! To celebrate, I'm hosting a special "Book Bag & Swag" giveaway on my website. You can find all the details here.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Playing by Heart Book Birthday

Playing by Heart, my young-adult historical romance inspired by the lives of Maria Gaetana Agnesi and her sister, Maria Teresa Agnesi, was published today by Vinspire Publishing. Here's a brief plot summary:
Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the 'second sister' means she'll likely be sent to a convent instead. Emilia's only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father's quest for nobility. First, though, she must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams but her sister's very life.

At its core, Playing by Heart is the story of two sisters struggling to follow their true calling, even when it conflicts with their father's goals. It's a clean historical romance appropriate for ages 12 and up.

The early reviews are quite positive. Booklist called the novel a "sweet and pleasurable read," saying also:
"Martino's romantic read features lovable characters
and is vibrant in setting and detail."
And DePaul University Education Professor Roxanne Owens called the novel "a must-read addition for school libraries everywhere." You can read more review excerpts on my website.

To celebrate the book's "birthday" today, I made some panettone, which you can see below. This Italian sweet bread is said to have originated in Milan, the novel's setting.

To watch the book's trailer and enter a giveaway to win a free autographed copy, see my post on

I've set up a number of events to celebrate the book's release, both in the Chicago area and online. For details about those, see this page of my website.